You might think that tasting chocolate is the one life skill you’ve fully mastered, but chances are you’re doing it wrong. For one thing, there is no chewing involved. You’ll need a nuanced approach if you attend the Valentine’s Day chocolate fair at the Boulder Book Store because the universe of high-end cacao art will literally be on the tip of your tongue.
This genuinely rare event brings together 30 outstanding chocolate producers offering tastes of at least five different bars or candies. Well-known chocolate names like Vosges and Neuhaus will be joined by Ritual, Hu Chocolate, Lamourette, White Label and many U.S. and global chocolates not commonly available in Boulder.
These are serious chocolatiers who source sustainable, fairly traded single-origin cacao beans they roast and grind themselves. Some press their own pristine cocoa butter. The bean-to-bar chocolates being sampled come in white, rose, milk and dark bars, and many are organic, vegan and non-GMO.
The 101 on Tasting Chocolate
You don’t have to take notes, but if you like good chocolate this tasting is a priceless way to find bars you love without breaking the bank. You can train your palate in the process.
Don’t arrive hungry. Eat some protein, veggies and grains before you bomb your body with chocolate and sugar. Trust me on this as a retired chocolate dessert contest judge.
To start, go dark. Save the bonbons, truffles, caramels and bars with fruit and nuts for “dessert.” Begin with the simple dark chocolate at a percentage that’s palatable. Taste 10 60% chocolate bars in a row and you’ll notice vast flavor differences between them. You’ll get different hints of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and savory in bars plus sub-flavors — perhaps floral, fudgy, nutty, fruity or citrusy.
Open your nose. Smell the chocolate before putting it on your tongue. The warmth of your fingers on the square should release some of the complex aromas. The room will be charmingly cacao-infused anyway with all those warm bodies and exposed chocolate.
Melt a square in your mouth. Let it melt completely. Slowly spread it throughout your mouth and appreciate the bud-coating texture. There’s no chewing in chocolate appreciation.
Restrain yourself. If you really mean to sample dozens of types of chocolate in a couple of hours and survive, be cautious. To try more types, think tiny bites.
Be sure to check out local Boulder County chocolatiers including Boulder’s Chocolove and Piece, Love & Chocolate, Longmont’s Robin Chocolates and Lafayette’s Chocolaterie Stam. And there are two must-taste Denver chocolatiers as well: Cultura Craft Chocolate and Dar Chocolate. Cultura Craft Chocolate offers 70% Haiti, 70% Guatemala, 75% Belize, and other single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolates. Among Cultura’s best-sellers are a bar with Deerhammer American Single Malt and cacao nibs. Dar Chocolate does the same with single origin bars plus the eye-opening 90% Ecuador cacao with ground Conscious Coffee beans.
Other companies sampling their wares include Soma (Canada), Manoa (Hawaii), Marou (Vietnam), Mirzam (Dubai) and Madecasse (Madagascar).
No doubt sustainable, bean-to-bar chocolates are much more expensive that Hershey’s or Cadbury’s, but these are sweets you can feel good about eating and giving.
End of a Chocolate Era
A legendary Colorado chocolate experience will go away in 2021. Russell Stover Chocolates, born in 1923 in Denver, will shutter its 305,000-square-foot factory and store in Montrose. This is not like the exquisite experience described above. Entering the huge discount warehouse is like walking into a cloud of cocoa and sugar. There are free candy samples everywhere. Brightly lit stacks of marked-down candy from seasonal holidays long past mingle, from cheap chocolate hearts to chocolate Santas and bunnies. Best of all are the mystery boxed “Bloopers,” the less-than-pretty bonbons. You leave the place totally Wonka-ed and the kids will be totally wired for the rest of your road trip. It’s the Casa Bonita of chocolate.
Local Food News
Grossen Bart Brewery will host the sixth annual Chili Chili Bang Bang cookoff on Saturday, Feb. 15 from 1-5 p.m. at its taproom and brewery (1025 Delaware Ave., Longmont). Enter your own chili for $20 and get the first Grossen Bart pint (excluding specialty brews) on the house. Or, don’t bring chili and get a $10 ticket, which provides unlimited chili tastings and the right to vote for your favorite. Proceeds benefit HOPE and the LeftHand Artist Group. Tickets at: eventbritecom/e/6th-annual-chili-chili-bang-bang-cook-off-tickets-92580389437. … The 10-day-long Denver Restaurant Week returns Feb. 21, providing diners the chance to eat at hundreds of the area’s best restaurants at three price points: $25, $35 and $45. Head out of Boulder County for special menus at Atelier by Radex, Coperta, Il Posto, Old Major, Safta, Tupelo Honey and more. Or, stop in at one of the participating Boulder County restaurants: 740 Front, Boudler Cork, Boulder Chophouse, Dagabi Tapas Bar, Jill’s, The Melting Pot, Riff’s, Salt and Via Toscana. More info at denver.org/denver-restaurant-week.
Taste of the Week
The Thongsoontorn family dishes memorable, traditional fare at Julie’s Thai Kitchen, a tiny spot in Lyons. On a recent visit I loved the thin crispy eggrolls filled with bean thread noodles with house-made sweet chile sauce and cashew-packed pad Himmaphan stir fry. The menu’s crown jewel is roasted chicken panang with steamed basmati rice. Bone-in fresh bird is simmered until fork tender in an exceptional, complex and fiery red curry. If you mistakenly order pad see ew (or anything else) “Thai hot,” try the palate-cooling trio of coconut ice cream, fresh mango and sticky rice.
Words to Chew On
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” — Charles M. Schulz
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (kgnu.org).